The Senate Wednesday rejected a bid by five Republicans to pull $16.8 million in testing funds from the 2015-16 state budget bill.

“What we are hearing from parents is there is too much testing,” argued Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “They want out of this product called PARCC. … This one amendment does something very simple, it defunds PARCC.”

The proposed amendment was offered during the hours-long debate on Senate Bill 15-234, the so-called “long bill” that will set state spending in the upcoming budget year.

Long lists of amendments are proposed to the budget bill every year, mostly by minority party members who know their motions will fail but who want to make political points. The GOP controls the Senate by a one-vote margin this year, and the testing amendment was proposed by five Republicans, all of whom to sit on the Senate Education Committee.

Democratic senators opposed the amendment – along with some key Republicans.

“This is not the place to do it,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver and a member of the Joint Budget Committee. “This is something current law requires the state to pay for.”

Later in the debate, JBC chair Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs agreed, saying, “I don’t think this is the right vehicle either. … We try not to make substantive law in the long bill.”

Lambert was referring to the longstanding legislative practice of using the budget bill only to set amounts of funding for programs that are currently required by state law, not to change those programs. Separate sections of state law require the current testing system, and the language of the amendment wouldn’t have changed those. The amendment also didn’t refer specifically to PARCC tests.

It’s also longstanding legislative practice for JBC members of both parties to oppose changes to the long bill, regardless of which party proposes those amendments.

The 40 minutes of debate ended with an initial standing vote. Several Republicans voted no, including Lambert, fellow JBC member Sen. Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Majority Leader Mark Scheffel of Parker.

The budget bill was debated on what’s called “second reading,” or preliminary consideration. A final Senate vote on the budget will be taken Thursday.

Testing critics will have plenty of other opportunities for debate. The House Education Committee will consider a major testing bill next Monday, and Senate Education will have a testing marathon featuring five bills on April 9. (See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for information and links on all 2015 testing bills.)

House panel advances rural aid bill

Some House Education Committee members questioned the $10 million cost of a new bill intended to help small rural school districts, but the committee passed the measure 10-1 Wednesday after listening to testimony and chewing on it for more than 90 minutes.

House Bill 15-1321 would exempt rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students from certain state requirements related to parent involvement, accountability committee membership, financial reporting, and evaluations, and also provide $10 million in 2015-16 for per-pupil distribution to those districts. (Get more details in this Chalkbeat story and this legislative staff summary.)

2015-Education-Bill-Tracker-plain

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, was the biggest skeptic. “I have some concerns about the $10 million. … So many other schools” have financial needs as well, she said. Fields was the only no vote.

Rural administrators and lobbyists from groups including the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado League of Charter Schools testified for the measure.

The rural aid bill joins a long line of proposed spending bills awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee. Each house of the legislature has been allocated only $5 million by the JBC for new or expanded spending this year. But the bills on the appropriations calendar total hundreds of millions of dollars, including more than a dozen education-related measures running to about $280 million.

House Education’s talkative session on rural aid meant it ran out of time to vote on House Bill 15-1322, which would commission a $165,000 study of the data reporting requirements the state imposes on school districts. (See a bill summary here.)

Some committee members complained about the cost; others wondered if it was necessary. When amendments surfaced just before the committee was due to be kicked out of the hearing room for another meeting, chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, pulled the bill off the table.

More education bills introduced in House

The session’s May 6 adjournment clock is counting down, but that doesn’t mean the legislative leadership is stopping members from introducing new bills. Here are education-related measures that popped up in the House on Wednesday.

House Bill 15-1326 – This bill would prohibit state colleges from discriminating against applicants who have high school diplomas from districts that have lost state accreditation. The sponsors are Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo. Both represent school districts that could soon face state intervention for low performance. The bill has no Senate sponsors.

House Bill 15-1328 – The measure would require youth sports organizations to conduct criminal background checks on staff members and some volunteers. This is a House retread of Senate Bill 15-048, which was killed in the Senate.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.